The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards

In The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, Kristopher Jansma takes a common subject for debut novelists--the sentimental education of a writer of slender means--and renders it uncommonly entertaining through two literary devices. The first is to catapult the protagonist out of a gently funny and duplicitous bildungsroman into a globe-scorching picaresque tale. The narrator's madcap mendacities escalate across adventures in the Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Iceland and Luxembourg, yet he remains sympathetic in his pursuit of literary achievement and the only two people who truly matter to him. It's a refreshingly swashbuckling approach, full of energy and surprises, not the least of which is the way the leopard of the title finally bounds into view.

Jansma's second, more complicated cleverness is to abdicate all authorial control to his unreliable narrator. It begins innocently enough as the narrator, sitting in the same airport where he used to wait for his flight attendant mother, tells the story of losing his first "book" at the age of six. He has since lost "a novel, a novella, and a biography," he continues, and is arranging their fictional and nonfictional remnants next to each other "to try to get them to add up to something true." Thus begins a metafictional puzzle in which the narrator's texts mingle with quotations from literary greats to construct an elegant argument about the truth-telling power of fiction.

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards' intricate narrative game and its carbon-burning escapades add up to a novel that is wise about identity and aspiration, competitive storytelling, romantic obsession and the assertion that "all these stories are true, only somewhere else." --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts

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